Ashes 2019: ‘F**k it, I’m not conforming’ – how Steve Smith redefined the art of batting

Trent Woodhill was Smith’s batting coach at Sutherland Cricket Club in south Sydney when he was still a teenager. Here, he talks to The Independent about the Australian's formative years and his refusal to conform

Wednesday 11 September 2019 07:15
Joe Root proud of England after Australia retain Ashes

Trent Woodhill wants to making something abundantly clear after a summer that has seen Steve Smith redefine the art of run scoring. Again.

“He’s other worldly,” says his former batting coach. “This guy is twice the cricketer Geoff Boycott ever was. You know the numbers don’t double – you don’t have to have an average of 100 to be twice as good as a player with an average of 50.

“For Steve Smith, to average close to 70 is incredible. Geoff Boycott had an appetite for scoring runs but Steve Smith has taken that to an unbelievable level.”

Boycott is the name that most readily springs to mind when discussing those players for whom run-scoring was akin to an obsession but Woodhill is right, Smith has taken that hunger to the next level. And then probably moved it on a few more notches too.

Woodhill was Smith’s batting coach at Sutherland Cricket Club in south Sydney when he was still a teenager. What most people who view cricket along traditional lines saw back then was an outstandingly gifted cricketer but one with a strong bottom hand grip who had a predilection for playing across the line. In other words, Smith was undeniably gifted but was very much a cricketer who needed to spend a lot more time acquainting himself with a coaching manual.

What Woodhill saw was something else entirely.

“To a small group of people, this really isn’t a surprise just because of his appetite for wanting to bat,” he says. “It’s just amazing. His appetite for batting is huge and that hasn’t changed.

“Cricket has this great way of destroying itself from within. You’ve seen glimpses of Steve in players like Viv Richards and Javed Miandad. I would love to have seen Barry Richards play a full career as an international player to see where he would have got. Same with Graeme Pollock.

“Then you’ve got players like your (Steve) Waughs, your (Allan) Borders , your (Jacques) Kallises. They had to conform even though they had unbelievable careers.

“I think Steven is the first one who has just said ‘f**k it – I’m not conforming, the whole aim of the game is to score runs and I’m going to do whatever I can to score runs’.

“You’re not used to seeing someone play like that and that’s what I talk about when I say about conforming.

“Every article over here starts with the words ‘a former great’. Someone like Mark Taylor. The problem with the former greats is that they don’t understand how good this guy is because it doesn’t look how you want it to look.”

As Australia celebrated retaining the Ashes at Old Trafford late on Sunday afternoon, Smith had every excuse to offer a retort to those who have continued to view his technique through a classical lens – and criticised him accordingly whenever handed the chance.

But when you’ve scored 671 runs at an average of 134 in just three Ashes Tests, you’ve pretty much let your batting do the talking anyway.

Now, with the final Test approaching, Don Bradman’s record total of 974 runs during the 1930 series between the two sides might just be beyond him, so might Wally Hammond’s 905 runs from 1928/29.

But he should be confident of jumping ahead of Arthur Morris (674 runs), David Gower (732 runs), Herbert Sutcliffe (734 runs), Alastair Cook (766 runs) and maybe even Mark Taylor (839 runs) on the all-time Ashes series run-scoring list by the time he has put his bat away for a final time this summer at the Oval.

Whatever happens it hasn’t been a bad return for a man who this time last year was wondering whether he would ever play a Test for his country again.

“Take in the time off for the suspension (a one-year ban for ball tampering in a Test against South Africa in Cape Town in March 2018) and that has just exacerbated the situation,” says Woodhill.

“He doesn’t ever want to have a bad day because he has to make up for what was taken away from him.

Steve Smith has scaled new heights during this Ashes series 

“The natural reaction is to suggest that Steve Smith will get found out in the end. But everyone has been waiting for Steve Smith to get found out since 2013. He has gone past that. He’s never going to be found out. It’s just what ceiling he places on himself now, I think.”

And with that, Woodhill is gone. He has to take another call. This time from David Warner, another player he has worked with closely in the past.

He, of course, is a man with slightly more weighing on his mind after a dismal series that has seen him score just 79 runs at an average of 9.87 in four Tests.

Fortunately for Australia, Smith has more than made-up for that shortfall.

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